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Politics

San Diego City Council Approves Sewer, Water Rate Hikes

People cool off at Waterfront Park in front of the San Diego County administration building, March 16, 2015.
Megan Burks
People cool off at Waterfront Park in front of the San Diego County administration building, March 16, 2015.
The increase will hit single-family homes hardest, while multi-family homes such as condos and apartments, as well as nonresidential rate payers will actually see a decrease of 5% and 12.1%, respectively.

UPDATE: 4:24 p.m., Sept. 21, 2021

Sewer rates for most San Diego rate payers will increase by an average of 5% in 2022, with the potential to increase by around 16% in total by 2025, after the San Diego City Council voted to hike rates Tuesday.

The increase will hit single-family homes — which make up around 80% of the city's ratepayers — hardest, while multi-family homes such as condos and apartments, as well as nonresidential ratepayers will actually see a decrease of 5% and 12.1%, respectively.

San Diego City Council Approves Sewer, Water Rate Hikes
Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

"We strive to keep costs as low as possible, but we found that we could not continue improving our system and maintaining our services without raising rates," said Shauna Lorance, director of the city's Public Utilities Department. "We recognize that this is not an ideal time to adjust rates for many people, but the increases are necessary to maintain a reliable water supply and the level of service our customers deserve."

The city recently conducted a study on sewer rates to evaluate future revenue requirements for operating and capital costs. The study found that if the city's sewer rates remain unchanged, there will not be enough revenue to provide necessary wastewater and recycled water services between fiscal years 2022 and 2025. As a result, the public utilities department proposed a four-year consecutive rate increase starting with 5% in 2022, up to 4% in fiscal years 2023 and 2024, and up to 3% in fiscal year 2025.

RELATED: Ratepayers Could Block San Diego Water, Wastewater Rate Changes

The first rate hike, which will impact all 2.2 million city sewer customers, will take effect Jan. 1.

"It is not fun to do this, but it is necessary," said Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera, who mentioned a portion of the funding would go toward the city's Pure Water project -- a water recycling project intended to avoid wastewater treatment cost increases and reduce discharges to the ocean.

He also acknowledged many of the residents of District 9, which he represents, live in multi-generational households and may be significantly impacted by the rate change. District 9 encompasses parts of Southeast San Diego, City Heights, Kensington and the College Area.

The average single-family household in San Diego gets a monthly wastewater bill of $40.52, said Adam Jones, deputy director of the public utilities department. That bill will increase to $47.64 in 2022, $49.58 in 2023, $51.53 in 2024 and $53 in 2025. Jones said the city hadn't completed a study of wastewater rates since 2007.

"This should have been taken care of years ago," said City Council President Jennifer Campbell, who placed much of the blame on former Mayor Kevin Faulconer's administration.

The council also increased water rates next year to cover a "pass-through" charge from the San Diego County Water Authority — an adjustment to account for rising water fees. The city imports as much as 90% of its water, the bulk of which is purchased from the water authority — which serves 24 cities and water districts throughout the region. The city is proposing for the first time in two years to pass on a rate adjustment of approximately 3% starting in 2022.

The City Council voted 8-0 on the bulk of the proposal, with Councilman Chris Cate voting no on the pass-through charge. Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert was absent due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

Along with Pure Water, the rate increases for sewer services are intended to help the city continue to upgrade core infrastructure by replacing aging pipes and sewer mains.

Prior to the Council vote, all city public utilities customers received a voter-mandated Proposition 218 notice in the mail with information about the rate increases being proposed and how residents could submit a protest during Tuesday's public hearing.

Over the past few months, the city hosted several community forums so that people could ask questions of department staff and learn more about the proposed increases.

Video: San Diego City Council Approves Sewer, Water Rate Hikes

San Diego residents facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic may qualify for funding through the Housing Stability Assistance Program to cover the costs of rent, utilities and internet service. To apply, visit covidassistance.sdhc.org.

In addition, the city offers the Help to Others program, a bill payment assistance option for qualified low- and fixed-income water utility customers. For details, visit the city's website at sandiego.gov/h2o.

Additional information about water and wastewater rate increases, including a customer bill calculator, is available at sandiego.gov/rate-increases.